Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Biotechnology : wide threats spectrum

"Much broader risks than what is categorized by
government and international organizations",
Asian Gazette sources say. Meaning : Be careful and
check what is in your yoghurt or when you cut your beef
or deer steack.


Could have a dual use.

(Photo : February 2006. Scientists have found
disease-causing proteins known as prions in the muscle
tissue of deer in 11 states and two Canadian provinces.
This is the first time prions have been found outside
the brain and spinal cord of deer, and the discovery has
raised concerns about human consumption of deer meat.)

I ) Quote from The Sunshine Project News Release - 7
February 2006 :

"US BARDA's Biggest Secret is the Public's Loss:

Are Biodefense Labs and National Security Agencies
Arriving at a Secrecy Agreement?

The biggest casualty of a conflict between scientists
and security agencies may be open research institutions
and the public's right to know about dangerous
experiments with biological weapons agents. With
proposed new secrecy, lab accountability will diminish,
leading to more accidents, less accountability, and a
decline of international confidence in US biodefense

In a proposed law on the Senate floor, a giant new
biodefense "sensitive but unclassified" (SBU) hole would
be torn in the Freedom of Information Act, creating new
secrecy at labs across the country. It is a ham fisted
attempt to resolve conflicts between secretive spies and
cocky scientists who disagree over the risks posed by
research on biological weapons agents.

BIODEFENSE BOOM & SECURITY: Since 2001, scores of US
universities and biotechnology companies have benefited
handsomely from billions of dollars in biodefense cash.
Across the country, biodefense labs are sprouting up
like weeds. The unrelenting spigot of federal money has
put thousands of scientists and technicians in the
business of studying bioweapons agents. Almost all of
them are novices in the field.

Contrary to what some might expect, US national security
agencies have not been altogether pleased with the
defense boom. It has created many new risks in many new
places. A major concern that the agencies have is that
dangerous dual-use technologies (such as
genetically-modified poxviruses) and the skills needed
to create bioweapons will proliferate, thereby
undermining security.

Defense priorities and obsession with secrecy at the
security agencies, however, makes them ill-suited to
intervene in bioscience policy. But, generally for
different reasons than the spies, some public interest
groups are also concerned that the essentially
unregulated biodefense labs are not interested in, or
capable of, adequate self-policing, and that this
problem may lead to a disaster.

labs have generally responded to the proliferation and
accident concerns with a disinterested yawn and an
outstretched hand (for more money). In sum, their reply
has consisted of little more than inconsequential
verbiage about voluntary codes of conduct and
perfunctory bioethical genuflection.

Rather than stepping forward with serious proposals for
mandatory oversight of dangerous dual-use research,
science has gone on taking the federal money and
pleading "scientific freedom". Stalling, the cash-flush
biodefense labs are hoping that security is just a
passing fad. This is evident, for example, at the
National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity (NSABB),
a newly-minted but flaccid body that, despite heavy
responsibilities, can't even find enough substance to
make itself look busy for a one day meeting.

SECRET MODUS VIVENDI?: But these radically different
institutions - the spooks and the scientists - may be
moving toward a modus vivendi. Unfortunately, the
secretive "solution" that has been proposed would make
things worse. It is to tear a hole in the Freedom of
Information Act by creating a new exemption for
"sensitive but unclassified" (SBU) biodefense research.
The proposal is found in a bill on the US Senate floor
(S.1873) sponsored by Richard Burr (R-NC), the same bill
that would create a new Biomedical Advanced Research and
Development Agency (BARDA).

The proposed legislation takes a radically wrong tack.
The exemption is so broad that it could make all
substantive aspects of practically every biodefense
project funded by BARDA a secret. According to Sunshine
Project Director Edward Hammond, "Two alpha male
elephants are colliding, and you don't need a microscope
- or a wiretap - to find out who's being squished in the
middle: The public and its right to know are getting
pancaked between these two beasts."

ALTERNATIVE PROPOSAL: It needn't be this way, says the
Sunshine Project. "It's easy to sympathize with Senator
Burr's aim, in the sense that many agree that labs with
bioweapons agents need strong new regulation," says
Hammond, "but this ham fisted proposal is the worst of
both worlds - all secrecy and no openness. It would
create mistrust and reduce accountability, which will
encourage both accidents and poor judgment."

"Instead of punishing the public for offenses by
science," says Hammond, "the Senator should be sticking
a fork in those that are profiting from the biodefense
boom yet refusing to come to terms with their
responsibilities. A 'sensitive but unclassified'
accident is still an accident, just one that nobody
learns from. Disturbing discoveries will still seep
into the public domain. Covering things up would worsen
the problems and could build a false sense of security."
Publishers have rejected 'sensitive but unclassified'

The Sunshine Project is calling for the proposed Freedom
of Information Act exemption to be removed in its
entirety from S.1873. Instead, and for all biodefense
projects, the Congress should make compliance with
federal lab safety guidance a matter of law, rather than
an unenforced suggestion. Congress should also block
the self-interested institutions that take biodefense
cash from overseeing themselves, given their refusal -
and probable inability - to self-regulate.

"Transparency is critical to everyone's safety and
security," says Hammond, "A mountain of SBU or
classified information will do more to obscure emerging
threats than to resolve them. Secrecy will heighten the
chances of a catastrophic lab accident and increase the
possibility of biodefense labs veering off-course into
prohibited areas of research. We need more
accountability, not less."

End of quote from The Sunshine project.

II ) What follows comes from sciences lab. To be taken
cautiously for some of them... Cash needed.
For what exactly, hmmm?

"Because the life-science revolution that began with
deciphering the genetic code has launched biological
research into an unprecedented period of productivity.
Parallel advances in computational techniques and the
widespread use of global computer networks have
contributed to the pace of biological research.

Within less than 30 years, the entire genomes of many
hundreds of organisms, from viruses to bacteria to
humans, have been sequenced, and partial sequences from
many thousands more organisms have been deposited into
databases freely accessible to scientists around the
world. Modern biological research is a thriving
international enterprise with enormous potential to
benefit society. The synergy created by increasing
knowledge and open exchange of ideas and information is
accelerating the advance of medicine, industry, and

Emerging details about the interplay between pathogenic
microorganisms and their hosts will allow scientists to
continue to develop and deliver new and improved
vaccines, stronger infection-fighting drugs, and
more-precise diagnostic tools. However, with its
promise, biological research presents a "dual-use"
dilemma, in that its technologic advances could also be
applied for destructive purposes in acts of bioterrorism
or war. Results that have immediate implications for
pathogen enhancement or weapons development have been
called "contentious research"

Quote : from " Globalization, biosecurity, and the future
of the life sciences" (www.nap.edu)

... "Biomedical advances have made it possible to identify
and manipulate features of living organisms in useful
ways -- leading to improvements in public health,
agriculture, and other areas. The globalization of
scientific and technical expertise also means that many
scientists and other individuals around the world are
generating breakthroughs in the life sciences and
related technologies. However, coordinated global
efforts are needed to reduce the growing risk that new
advances in these areas will be used to make novel
biological weapons or misused by careless groups and
individuals, says a new report from the National
Research Council and Institute of Medicine of the
National Academies. The report recommends
multidisciplinary measures to identify and mitigate such
dangers over the next five to 10 years.

"Our increasingly interdependent global society needs a
broad array of integrated, decisive actions to
successfully anticipate and manage the potential misuse
of biomedical research and the technologies it
generates," said Stanley M. Lemon, director, Institute
for Human Infections and Immunity, University of Texas
Medical Branch, Galveston, and co-chair of the committee
that wrote the report. "The opportunities to inflict
harm are unparalleled."

As a start, the entire scientific community should
broaden its awareness that bioterrorism threats now
include, for example, new approaches for manipulating or
killing a host organism or for producing synthetic
micro-organisms, the report says. "U.S. national
biodefense programs currently focus on a relatively
small number of specific agents or toxins, but gains in
biomedical understanding have raised major concerns
about the next generation of biowarfare agents," said
committee co-chair David A. Relman, associate professor
of medicine and of microbiology and immunology, Stanford
University, Stanford, Calif. "We need to expand our
thinking about the nature of future biological threats,
as well as more fully exploit advances in the life
sciences to create a global public health defense that
is agile and flexible."

An independent advisory body should be established to
analyze and forecast the fast-changing science and
technology landscape in partnership with U.S.
intelligence officials and government leaders -- helping
them to stay abreast of developments in the life
sciences that could be used for both peaceful and
destructive aims, the report says. Although the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services recently formed
the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity to
advise the government on "dual use" biological research
activities, the proposed advisory group would focus
exclusively on analyzing science and technology to
anticipate future biological threats.

The report adds that the national security and
intelligence communities should bring greater scientific
and technical expertise to their decision-making and
other activities in biosecurity-related areas.

Continuing advancement in the life sciences is essential
to thwarting bioterrorism, the report says; vaccine
development, for example, depends on cutting-edge
biomedical research. The open exchange of scientific
data and concepts is the linchpin of these advances, and
the results of fundamental research should remain
unrestricted except when national security requires
classification of the information. U.S. policymakers
also should promote international scientific exchange
and the training of foreign scientists in the United
States. Both measures have contributed to the
productivity of America's scientific enterprise.

Promoting a shared sense of responsibility as well as
ethical behavior throughout the world's scientific
enterprise is important. S&T leaders and practitioners
should develop explicit national and international codes
of ethics and conduct for life scientists, the committee
said. Additionally, decentralized groups of scientists,
government leaders, and other authorities are needed
around the world to collaboratively monitor the
potential misuse of biomedical tools and technologies --
and intervene if necessary.

The committee said that even if fully implemented, its
recommendations would not guarantee that biomedical
advances would be used solely for peaceful purposes.
Therefore, steps should be taken now to strengthen
America's public health infrastructure by improving its
ability to quickly detect biological agents and
recognize disease outbreaks, and respond to emergencies
such as bioterrorist attacks or rapidly spreading
pandemics. In addition, greater coordination of
federal, state, and local public health agencies is
sorely needed." End of quote.

The attacks on September 11, 2001, and the later deadly
anthrax letters have focused increased national and
international attention on the threat of terrorism. On
October 8, 2003, the US National Academies released a
report, Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism
(NRC, 2003a), which examined the dual-use problem in
life-science research. The author committee, chaired by
Gerald Fink of the Whitehead Institute, offered
recommendations on how to confront the potential for
misuse of biological agents and technologies without
unduly limiting progress in the life sciences.

The report proposed modifications of the system of
review of biological experiments and stressed the
importance of addressing research in subjects of concern
early and of educating scientists to be aware of the
risks and benefits associated with their research and
how to balance them responsibly.

The committee recognized the importance of open
communication in scientific research as a fundamental
practice crucial to continued progress despite the fact
that it might make the data accessible to those intent
on misuse. A reliance on self-governance by scientists
and scientific journals to review publications for their
potential national security risks was recommended, and
a number of major journals that publish life-science
research have already committed to implementing such a
review process.

End of quote

... and You have been warned!